I design, I develop, I make


A maker based in Upstate New York.
Turning ideas into applications.

© 2024 Mubashar Iqbal

Finding the Time for Side Projects

December 29th, 2017

It is no secret that I enjoy working on Side Projects. I probably have more side projects, than people have actual projects.

A common question I get is how do I have the time to work on them.

It’s true I have a full time job, I have a family, I love watching sports, I love watch television and movies. Surely that doesn’t leave much time for side projects.

So first things first … you’ve got to want to have side projects.

Side Projects are not for everyone. Just like being a developer isn’t for everyone, just like working at a startup is not for everyone, just like being a freelancer is not for everyone, side projects are not for everyone. Don’t feel like you have to have side projects, it’s perfectly acceptable not to have any.

Making side projects is a hobby for me. Some people like to fix cars, some people like to plant things in their gardens, some people like to build things in their workshop. I like to make things on my computer.

Have a schedule

Unless you set aside a specific time to work on side projects you won’t “fit them in”.

For some people that means waking up a little earlier, before the rest of the house wakes up. Mornings work best for a lot of people, they feel refreshed after sleeping, they have more energy to tackle any tasks thrown at them.

I’ve known some people that take a quick 15 minutes to eat lunch, and use the remainder of their lunch our to work on side projects.

Talk to your boss. As long as you’re not looking for a side project to escape the daily grind, you know you actually like your job, talk to your boss about making time for side projects. Many companies, Google was among the most famous, set aside some of their employee times to work on side projects. These projects need to benefit the company in some way, but still give you many of the same rewards as a personal side project.

I’m a night owl, always have been. I do some of my best work from 10pm-2am and beyond.

I like the open-endedness of working at night. Yes I know I have to sleep (a little), but if I get into the flow, in the zone, I like that I can work until I finish, and don’t have to halt things due to a lack of time.

I’ve often sat down to make a quick update to a site, something that should take 10–15 minutes, a few hours a later I rise with a totally built new feature, or sometimes an entirely new project MVP complete.

Find a Passion

For a lot of people, finding the time it not a real blocker, they simply find other ways to spend their free time. Watching TV, movies, sports, or just hanging out with friends, and why not.

If you don’t have an idea for a side project that gets you excited to work on it, then you probably shouldn’t. It’s hard enough to motivate yourself for the 8+ hours day you work already, adding more time on top of that can be tough.

The first side project I had (long since dead) was called Game Navigator. I’m a huge soccer fan, but back in 1998 it was hard to track online the games my favorite team was playing, their results, etc. I built a website that mixed my interest in soccer and data visualization to display the season for my favorite team. Since I was passionate about the idea, the topic, I made the time to work on it.

I grabbed this screen shot via the Wayback machine.

Since then I’ve built many sites that are related to things that I was passionate about at the time. Social Media, Bots, Job Automation, Movies, Crypto Currency, Startups, Metrics and much more.

Include Others

Many people use their free time to socialize with friends, why not combine the two! Although you have to be careful when working on projects with friends, you don’t want to ruin a good friendship. It can be very rewarding working on projects with friends that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

Having someone to bounce ideas off, share the workload with can really help move projects along.

Working with people on side projects, can also lead to other work in the future. I’ve found freelancing gigs, full time jobs as a result on working with people on side projects who recommended me for these opportunities.

Some of the great people I’ve done Side Projects with in the past include: Seth Louey, Daniel Kempe, Matthew Spurr, Ben Tossell, Chris J. Thompson and Dimitar Raykov.

Have Fun

Side projects are meant to be fun, something that doesn’t have a deadline. Have fun working on them.

Yes you have to ship, but it’s ok to skip a day and do something else. Try doing something you wouldn’t normally do, you might like it.

The more fun you have working on side projects the more you’ll do them.

You might even take my mantle and become the new Side Project King/Queen!

Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash